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National Lampoon's Vacation(1983)
The Griswolds have planned all year for a great summer vacation. From their suburban Chicago home, across America, to the wonders of the Walley World fun park in California, every step of the way has been carefully plotted. So what if they lose all their money when their new car gets wrecked. And it's not too bad when Cousin Eddie deposits sour Aunt Edna in their back seat for a lift to Phoenix. But what really keeps Clark's eyes on the road is a flirtation with a mysterious blonde in a red Ferrari.
For more about National Lampoon's Vacation and the National Lampoon's Vacation Blu-ray release, see National Lampoon's Vacation Blu-ray Review published by Michael Reuben on May 26, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Chevy Chase, Beverly D'Angelo, Randy Quaid, Anthony Michael Hall, Eddie Bracken, Brian Doyle-Murray
Director: Harold Ramis
» See full cast & crew
National Lampoon's Vacation Blu-ray Review
Travels with Sparky
Reviewed by Michael Reuben, May 26, 2013
Marketing departments love to stamp home video releases as "anniversary editions", but that doesn't mean the content lives up to the name. Warner Home Video's "30th Anniversary Edition" of National Lampoon's Vacation, a film that inaugurated a franchise and routinely turns up on lists of best comedies, recycles the same audio and video transfer that Warner issued on Blu-ray three years ago and the same extras ported over from the film's 20th anniversary "special edition" DVD. The only significant upgrade is a feature-length documentary first shown on the A&E network in 2011 (complete with appropriate bleeping for broadcast), which is admittedly excellent. It may seem churlish to complain that a Blu-ray "double dip" doesn't offer enough new content in a world where companies like Disney routinely celebrate a film's anniversary with no new extras and, as likely as not, a poor presentation of the main feature. But given Warner's huge catalog, what is the point of re-issuing a title after just three years, when so many others remain to be transferred to Blu-ray, unless the studio is offering improved image and sound? It's not as if Warner lacked for a Vacation movie to tie in with the beginning of summer, because, simultaneously with the release of this "30th Anniversary" edition of the first film, Warner has also issued a Blu-ray of its third sequel, Vegas Vacation. Since deciphering the mysteries of home video departments is as hopeless as catching the wind, we might as well take a look at the latest Vacation. A review of the 2010 Blu-ray by my colleague Martin Liebman can be found here.
The Griswold family—father Clark (Chevy Chase), mother Ellen (Beverly D'Angelo), son Rusty (Anthony Michael Hall) and daughter Audrey (Dana Barron)—set off on a cross-country drive from Chicago to Southern California. Destination: Walley World, America's number one theme park. Everyone would rather fly, but Clark insists on driving, because he is determined to cram as much "together" time with his family into two weeks as possible. Right there, built into the premise of Clark's vacation plans are the seeds of disaster. No one should risk forcing a family to spend more time together than they're used to. The cleverness of the script by John Hughes, who based Vacation on a short story he had written for the National Lampoon magazine and whose career as a screenwriter and director took off after the film's success, lies in its simplicity. Vacation is a road movie, and as Bob Hope and Bing Crosby demonstrated to great success, anything can happen on the road. With an almost limitless potential for encounters en route, the comic possibilities are inexhaustible, because there's always another pratfall waiting around each bend. All that Hughes had to do at the outset (with some help from Chase and director Harold Ramis, who did uncredited rewrites on the script) was to set up the character of Clark Griswold as the butt of the film's cruelest jokes, a role he would continue to play through the next three films. This occurs in the sequence where Clark and Rusty go to pick up their new car for the trip, and Clark gets swindled by a shady saleman played by Eugene Levy. With brutal efficiency, the encounter establishes Clark's comic persona as a kind of human Wile E. Coyote, whose cleverest designs are revealed to be idiotic when they blow up in his face. Still, he always walks away smiling with an attitude that says, "I meant to do that." (No one is fooled.) Now ensconced in their "metallic pea" Wagon Queen Family Truckster, the Griswolds set off to discover America, and it's anything but an easy ride. In St. Louis, they take the wrong freeway exit and end up in a bad part of town. (Director Ramis is now embarrassed by the sequence, which he says is the most "politically incorrect" he's ever done—and he co-wrote Animal House!) They lose all their credit cards. They have an accident in the desert and have to be towed and repaired by small-town mechanics who charge Clark all his cash for shoddy work, as a result of which Clark resorts to desperate measures at the Grand Canyon. They "enjoy" a brief stay with Ellen's Cousin Catherine (Miriam Flynn), a baby machine married to Eddie (Randy Quaid), a ne'er-do-well who redefines crass. ("I don't know why they call this stuff hamburger helper. It does just fine by itself, huh?") But the stay isn't a total waste: Eddie's son Dale (John Navin) introduces Rusty to the pleasures of nudie magazines, and his daughter, Vicki (a teenage Jane Krakowski), gives Audrey a generous supply of homegrown pot. Then, of course, there's Ellen's evil-tempered Aunt Edna (Imogene Coca), whom Clark gets suckered into giving a ride home to Phoenix from Eddie's and Miriam's. It's a memorable experience, not the least because of Edna's dog, Dinky, who is responsible for Clark's singular encounter with a state trooper (James Keach). And let us not forget the Girl in the Ferrari (Christie Brinkley), who keeps passing the Griswold Truckster like some vision from Clark's still-youthful id, until by some miracle she appears at a motel where the family has checked in and asks Clark whether he intends to "go for it". After many misadventures, the Griswolds do reach Walley World, owned and operated by Roy Walley (Forties film star Eddie Bracken, who was cast for his uncanny resemblance to Walt Disney). The original ending fell flat with test audiences (and has unfortunately not been preserved). The current ending features the late John Candy in a hilariously deadpan role as a Walley World security guard (beginning the collaboration between Candy and Hughes that would produce Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Uncle Buck). Anyone familiar with Chase's brief time on Saturday Night Live will recognize in Clark Griswold an amalgam of several recurring characters he played there. The cluelessness and clumsiness come directly from Chase's many performances as former President Gerald Ford (less an impression than a broad parody), the smugness and superiority from his Weekend Update anchorman and the homespun paragon of family values from numerous pitchmen he portrayed in commercial parodies. The new element that makes Clark such a unique creation is the glint of madness that emerges when, near the end of the trip, Clark has finally had enough of everyone's whining and complaining, and he bursts into an R-rated rant that frightens both his wife and their children. Eventually it's that lunatic spark that allows the Griswolds to triumph over adversity and, against all odds, have a great vacation.
National Lampoon's Vacation Blu-ray, Video Quality
Much of Vacation was shot on location and on the road by cinematographer Victor J. Kemper, who is much better known for his work in urban landscapes (e.g., Dog Day Afternoon and See No Evil, Hear No Evil). Still, someone with Kemper's experience was probably ideal for the demands of Vacation, which was a challenging shoot under frequently difficult conditions. As noted in the introduction, the transfer and mastering of this disc is identical to that on the 2010 Blu-ray previously reviewed. Even the files appear to be identical. Like the earlier disc, this one is 1080p and encoded with VC-1, as opposed to newer Warner discs, which use the AVC codec. Sharpness and detail are decent but not stellar. One has to wonder, however, how much room there is for improvement. Despite having some spectacular scenery, Vacation has never been a visual showcase. Its budget, estimated at $15 million, was reasonable for a comedy in that era, but not so generous as to allow for lengthy setups, massive lighting rigs and the finest analog cameras and lenses that money could buy. The film's colors are accurately captured, with appropriate loss of saturation under the desert sun, but never to the point where it looks like an overdose of contrast. Black levels appear to be appropriate, and the film's grain texture looks natural without any untoward digital manipulation. The presence of the additional documentary, which is in HD, has caused Warner to use a BD-50 for this edition, but the film itself is the same file size and bitrate as on the previous edition, which did not suffer from artifacts. It still doesn't. Still, transfer and mastering techniques have advanced in the last three years, and if Warner wanted to advertise this disc as a "30th Anniversary" edition, it should have provided fans with the benefits of those improvements. For 2010, this disc rated a video score of 4.0, but today it's worth less.
National Lampoon's Vacation Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The film's original mono mix is presented as DTS-HD MA 1.0, and it sounds quite good for a mono mix from the period. Dialogue is always clear, and dynamic range is remarkably wide, with surprisingly deep bass extension, which lends authority to the sounds of machinery at the opening automobile dealership scene and to other scenes like the desert crash. Vacation spawned a successful soundtrack album, anchored by Lindsay Buckingham's original single, "Holiday Road", which remains addictive. A stereo version would be preferable, but the mono rendition mixed into the soundtrack is still catchy. As noted when the previous Blu-ray was released, a few songs have been replaced on the soundtrack, notably The Pointer Sisters' "I'm So Excited", which originally played to accompany Christie Brinkley's appearances. The least Warner could have done for the film's 30th anniversary is restore all of the original music. The audio grade has been docked accordingly.
National Lampoon's Vacation Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
National Lampoon's Vacation Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
If you don't already own Vacation on Blu-ray, this disc is an easy choice. If you own the existing Blu and you love the film, you might want to wait until this one goes on sale to add the documentary to your collection. The film itself is a comedy classic, and it doesn't appear that Warner will be revisiting it again any time soon. With caveats, recommended.
National Lampoon's Vacation: Other Editions
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